"While this is not the detection of life on another planet, it's an important step in the right direction: The detection of an atmosphere around the super-Earth GJ 1132b marks the first time that an atmosphere has been detected around an Earth-like planet other than Earth itself," John Southworth, a researcher at Keele University in the United Kingdom and first author on the new work, said in a statement from the university.
The astronomers captured images of the planet's star using a telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. The researchers measured the star system with seven different wavelengths and used small dips in the star's brightness to determine the radius of the planet passing by during its 1.6-day orbits, according to a statement from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, which collaborated on the research. They were able to further clarify the planet's radius.
But the researchers also found something strange, they said: One of the wavelengths showed a larger dip in brightness than the others each time the planet passed by. This world, for some reason, appeared larger at that wavelength than at others, suggesting that the planet had a surrounding atmosphere that this wavelength couldn't penetrate, the researchers said.